Broadband Providers: “Let’s cut ’em off at the pass!”

Even the most naive and casual observer can see that the threat from services like Hulu; both Apple’s TV and movie offerings within iTunes; Joost; and the accelerating number of media center software offerings (providing access to ANY video on the internet), pose a huge threat to the cable companies and other broadband providers.

They are all clearly trying to get out ahead of the user market (and the maturity of video provider business models as well as the open source media center software) and put caps in place before wider adoption occurs.

As a tail-end baby boomer with enough of a geek nature to be involved far too deeply in the ‘net, web and social media in my business, I realize I’m atypical within my demographic on how I, and as a result my family, use our Comcast broadband connection. With Comcast’s 50mbps down/10mbps up DOCSIS 3 setup in my office (Note: we were one of two companies in their Minnesota rollout of this new technology) and 16mbps down/2mbps up at home, I’m dealing daily in video, photos, moving around large Zip files, screensharing, personal publishing, and numerous other online activities. These activities are mission critical to our small business, my wife’s and my client interactions, as well as family activities and connecting with others.

Comcast, one of the largest providers in this space, directly affects all aspects of our digital lives. With my family and my current and increasing use of the internet for an every expanding array of online activities (Skype calling; my son’s video gaming; Flickr and Vimeo for photo/video sharing; online backup of our computers; use of our new Mac mini media center), we are certain to end up violating Comcast’s draconian 250GB bandwidth caps (er, I mean, Network Management Policy).

The kicker? According to Comcast’s executive escalation group, I can’t even pay them more for higher tiers of service with no cap or, as one representative told me in March, “…the cap is the cap, regardless of the tier of service.

Did you know that, in Comcast’s case, they can simply cut you off for exceeding that 250GB cap with no warning and that their promised metering tools are still missing in action?

Then I read this recently about Time Warner’s laughingly low caps and realized that, if Time Warner gains traction with this approach, Comcast will follow suit and we’ll all have to watch and do whatever these providers allow us to do online.

If you buy my argument that caps are, in fact, an anti-competitive strategic move instead of what Comcast claims (i.e., network management), then it’s no surprise they don’t offer heavy users more bandwidth for additional money since most of us are also heavy influencers and would undoubtedly motivate others to emulate our “overuse” of Comcast’s bandwidth (I know I do all the time).

Here’s another issue that just bugs the crap out of me that illustrates the point above in a different way, but may enlighten you on how broadband providers control the internet currently.

Om Malik had this post today about upload speeds which is another, architected-by-broadband-provider strategy to slow down or eliminate certain uses of their network.

For those of you who were involved early on the internet like I was, you may remember @Home Network, a joint venture with several cable companies as a means to leverage their coaxial networks into homes and deliver high speed internet over those lines.

Jealous that my buddies in California, with access to @Home, were enjoying fast speeds I could only dream about in Minnesota, I was connected to several geeks that were trying out all sorts of stuff over that network: from streaming audio (as “pirate radio stations”) to placing web servers on the network (bandwidth was symmetrical at the beginning so upload and download speeds were the same), as well as starting to deliver database driven web sites as experiments.

@Home quickly realized that their network topology would be horribly overloaded if hundreds or thousands of people started connecting accessible devices to the internet through their networks.

So they killed it all by throttling down the upload speeds…a practice that continues to this day with most providers (the fiber offerings, like Verizon’s FiOS, are an exception). What might have happened had they let it live? Nourished it and tended to the needs of people innovating?

If you care about this issue at all, I’d urge you to connect with your Senator and Representatives as well as your own Public Utilities Commission, State legislature and others if you care at all about who controls your access to your online life.

Very clear, strong and straightforward guidelines for bandwidth caps must be an integral part of any law or public policy (and the Obama Administration is on top of this…but off to a rocky start). In addition, I would expect that State Legislatures would enact guidelines — for any bandwidth provider delivering their service in your State — and at a minimum deliver metering tools to customers at all levels in order to eliminate arbitrary, unknown and sudden cessation of internet connections…connections that are becoming as important to our digital life as the telephone was in the last century.


  1. Scott Skibell on April 2, 2009 at 10:54 am

    This is clearly anti-competitive behavior. How can we turn this into a media/pr nightmare for the cable companies?

    If Time Warner plans to cap me, I will switch service providers because it’s clearly a change in the terms. They have tried to lock me into a 2-year term but for the life of me I can’t figure out what they’ve subsidized to justify it. The wireless phone companies have lost in the courts on this so I doubt TW has much to stand on.

    On a local level, I would encourage people to hold public protests, plant signs along the roadways, call customer service every chance you have and make their lives hell.

    Of course this only works if you have a choice. Barack, are you listening?

  2. PXLated on April 2, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Am surprised that upload speeds are just now getting attention. We in the design business have had a problem with this since forever, just try sending a large Photoshop file to a client or agency or backing up a whole client project (multi gigs) to a remote server.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.